Finch rewinds the footage again.
He needs to focus. His attention has been divided, scattered so far. There must be something he’s missing, some small detail, something that the Machine can take and unfurl and remake into a tool that can save John’s life.
He’s got a bank of security monitors to his right and any flicker of movement on those makes him jump to attention, sick with the fear that the Library has been infiltrated. He’s got a single, fuzzy square of live footage on the monitor to his left. This screen is terribly, impossibly dark, but he can’t stop looking at it anyway.
He needs to focus.
Finch takes another gulp from his cup, tastes the last lukewarm mouthful, dregs of mixed green tea and coffee.
He has to stay awake.
A few deep breaths, and he’s ready to watch it again. He hits play.
The camera is focused on nothing, now, just a blurry wall framed lopsided.
“-going to decrease my mobility, I’ll leave it down there for the rats and the alligators. I don’t care how expensive it is.”
The sound of John’s voice, in this mundane half-captured moment, before it truly went wrong, knocks the wind out of him every time now. Finch can’t see him, but his fingertips pass before the lens of the chest-mounted camera, prodding and adjusting.
“Finch, can you see?”
“I can see you just fine, Mr. Reese,” Finch mouths, filling in the silence in the footage where he spoke in Reese’s ear.
“Good.” There’s a wordless period of about a minute where Reese moves haltingly, jerkily around the room, pausing to fix the focus, clean the lens. He makes exasperated sounds.
Reese didn’t like the camera, Finch remembers. He protested, said the harness would make it difficult to move, difficult to fight. He was so brave, but he didn’t want to go.
Finch rubs the sleep out of his insomnia-bruised eyes and wonders if the passage of his hand before his line of sight made him miss something. Though, he knows it didn’t. He knows every frame of this scene, every inch of the blurry, darkened boiler room Reese is filming.
But what if he missed something?
“Are we ready to go?” Reese asks. He’s impatient. The frame trembles. Finch never noticed it when he was watching live, but watching now, it’s all he can see.
Finch must have said yes, because the camera drops a few feet as Reese kneels, opens up a trapdoor in the concrete floor, swings it wide. As the camera peers uselessly into that yawing, cobweb-strewn chasm, Reese jokes, “Next time, I get to stay in the Library and drink tea and you can climb around in the sewer.”
“It’s a service tunnel.” At this point, Finch doesn’t even notice he’s supplying his own lines until after he’s spoken them.
Reese jumps in without a moment’s hesitation and begins his descent down the ladder into total darkness. There’s no physical hesitation, anyway. Finch thinks that at this point, Reese had just accepted that it was going to happen.
He’d fought it at first, from the moment it became clear that they were dealing with something other, beyond the pale. Reese has something of the animal in him, fight or flight. There’s so much he can handle, so much he can withstand, but this surpassed his limits, and Reese scrambled. Anger and guilt spurred him on for a time, anger and guilt over the Numbers lost, over when he sent Fusco to search their suspect’s house and he never came back and no amount of searching could unearth him.
But, by this point, Reese’s rage had calmed to grim, slow-burning acceptance. This was just something they were going to do. That he’s going to do for Finch. It was, after all, Finch’s obsession.
In the footage, Reese says, “Alright, I’m at the bottom,” and the screen explodes in a ring of white light from Reese’s flashlight. It throws the tunnel into sharp relief, gray concrete and copper pipes and walls gone dark and glistening with mold. “Let’s do this,” Reese says, without conviction.
The service tunnel is disused, closed off sometime in the 70’s. It leads to a subway station that no longer exists. It is littered with rubble and the bones of small animals. Finch now knows every stone.
In the footage, what strikes Reese as remarkable was that no one lived down here. No homeless squatters, no live rats, not a roach to be seen. Nothing.
“What was Kralie doing down here?” Reese asks, referring to their Number.
There are any number of answers. Hiding something. Hiding himself. Filming a movie, as one of the people Reese and Finch interviewed about Kralie had suggested.
Film is important, Finch underlines in his mind for the thousandth time. It’s something to do with cameras and film. But he’s no closer.
Reese’s progress through the tunnel is slow, methodical, though in fact there is little to see. There’s a terrible monotony to it, just endless length of dark and unforgiving tunnel, with every piece of rubble lurking like a threat. Finch knows that the camera is mounted on Reese’s chest, far too low, but he pretends he is behind Reese, looking through his eyes, seeing what he saw, inhabiting his body and his bones. Finch pretends that he could turn around and face Reese, no longer a spyglass or a lens, but real and in the flesh and blessedly alive.
Finch can’t even bear to glance over his shoulder.
He sees the telltale splitting at the bottom of the screen, and all is readiness.
“Hey, Finch?” Reese says, voice blurred by static. “Take a look at this.” The beam of his flashlight has fallen on a mark spray-painted on a clear patch of concrete wall. A circle, two lines crossed through it in an X. Their symbol. Kralie’s symbol. It portends such devastating things, and yet its actual significance remains cruelly unclear to Finch. “We’re close,” Reese says for the both of them.
Finch begins to cough. It’s rough, hacking, tugs at the injury in his neck and the pain in his head. His lungs are fire. When he stops, there is a gobbet of blood dashed across his keyboard. No time to be horrified. Without looking, he takes a Wet Wipe from the package that stands ready at his desk and cleans it up. It can’t be left there. Response time is important. He can’t let the keys stick.
He doesn’t think he missed anything. Reese is still just moving down the hallway. His hands, gun at the ready, obscure part of the frame. The rest is marred by splitting, the audio ravaged by eerie feedback.
Finch keeps thinking it will be different this time. They’ll find nothing and Reese will come home. They’ll be together. They’ll be fine.
As the beam of the flashlight rises from the floor to the end of the tunnel, Finch braces for impact.
The roaring burst of static doesn’t make him flinch like it did the first ten times he heard it, but his heart shudders and clenches when the light falls upon the figure at the end of the tunnel.
Tall. Very tall. Finch wants to say seven feet but in the space of an instant it moves close to Reese and it is so, so much taller, unquantifiable.
Black suit, white shirt, black tie. Simple and unornamented and expertly tailored to its impossibly long limbs. Nothing to identify it, nothing to go on, nothing visible.
Finch expertly hits pause in the moment after it comes closer to Reese, not lunging but seeming to simply skip frames, but before Reese begins to fire on it. This frame is the only clear shot of its face.
Nothing. Just blank, smooth, featureless pink flesh. No teeth to rend your flesh, no mouth to swallow you whole, no eyes to seek you out in the dark. Nothing.
Just a man in a suit. A man with no face. A man who is everywhere and nowhere at all. A man without motives or a voice to make them known. A man who is not a man, just the empty specter of death.
He imagines the long, perfect fingers of the Machine’s facial recognition software wandering over that blank expanse, measuring and matching and slipping away, unsatisfied. Who are you? What are you?
Finch used to think it wore a mask. He knows better now.
Finch vehemently strikes play and lets Reese fire on the thing, once, twice, three times, shots reverberating in the concrete tunnel and sending jolts of pain into Finch’s ears.
For a brief, mad instant, Finch lets himself believe Reese has killed it. Then it lashes out with one long black arm like a whip or a tentacle or a tendril of smoke and the camera falls at a crazy angle and strikes the floor while the flashlight drops with a clatter, throwing violent alien shadows.
Finally, it all comes to rest. Finch sees its feet cross the floor in front of the camera, black pant leg and simple, black shoes with no mark to identify them. That’s all. The camera does not move. Reese does not appear. The frame does not split. It just keeps running, filming nothing.
Finch hazards a glance at the live feed still streaming on the monitor to his left. There’s nothing to see. The batteries in the flashlight died some time ago, and Finch estimates that the camera can’t hold out much longer. It’s only filming blackness, but Finch thinks the audio is still working. He thinks. Aside from dripping water, there hasn’t been a sound.
It’s been three days, and there hasn’t been a sound.
Like always, when he reaches the end of the footage, Finch thinks about calling someone. Not the real police. He can’t trust them. He can’t call this in without sounding insane. Not Fusco, for obvious reasons.
He’s called Carter many times, every hour on the hour, but she hasn’t picked up. The last time Finch saw her, they met in a diner and she stuffed file after redacted file into his hands. Her hair was in disarray and there were dark circles under her eyes. She’d had a cough. “What did you get me into?” she’d asked Finch, pushing rumpled papers across the Formica table at him.
“I don’t know,” Finch had said. “I’m sorry.”
Later, when Finch frantically tore through her files, looking for something, anything that could help him get Reese back, he found a light spray of aspirated blood on an arson report.
He doesn’t think he’ll see her again.
Finch sighs, pulls himself together, runs his hands through his hair. He can’t stop, not now. He doesn’t have time for guilt and regrets. There must be something, something he’s missing. Something that will bring Reese back to him.
Finch rewinds the footage again, prepares to press play, considers making another pot of coffee.
Out of the corner of his right eye, he thinks he sees something moving on the Library’s security feed.
He thinks he sees a man in a suit.